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Dior and him

Film Critic Tatiana Aleshicheva on Frederic Tcheng's Dior and I

On October 2, the Non-Fiction film program at the St. Petersburg Media Forum held a screening of Dior and I, a documentary by Frederic Tcheng about a much-discussed event in the fashion world - the hiring of Raf Simons as the creative director of the Dior fashion house.

On screen we see long corridors, perfectly white walls, and people in snow-white robes with the Dior logo scurrying about. It's the atelier, the design workshop at the House of Dior, which resembles either a the sterile interior of a hospital, or a production laboratory where advanced electronic gadgets are assembled. The atelier is like a beehive: after the thunderous resignation of John Galiano, the Belgian designer Raf Simons was hired to be the new helmsman of this ship. In contrast to Galiano's scandalous reputation, his standing is impeccable. But his appointment was preceded by a period of uncertainty - in the fashion industry, rumors and speculation circulated about the candidates for the new successor, everybody wondering whether Simons would leave Jil Sander. For the House of Dior, Simons was not an obvious choice - his style was seen as minimalist, not fully consistent with Dior's customary extravagance. When Simons himself appears on screen, he frowns with displeasure at the word minimalism - the designer doesn't want his work to be pigeon-holed into any particular niche.

An off-screen narrator quotes from Dior's memoirs: "The House began with three ateliers on the Avenue Montaigne. I was 41 years old, and I had no intention of creating any kind of revolution. I am a reactionary by nature - but not a retrograde!" Closer to the finale, Simons shamefully admits that immediately after he was hired as the House's chief designer, he decided to read Dior's book, but then put it aside after only fifty pages. A sudden sense of fear had seized him - he felt as though he would never compare with the great fashion designer. Not to mention that he had been given only eight weeks to create his first Dior collection, instead of the usual eight months. Time was ticking, and up to that point in his life he had only worked in ready-to-wear, never having any dealings with the complicated technologies of haute couture.

Simons is then introduced to people whose hands create all the splendor of the House of Dior: the top tailors of the atelier. He says a few polite words of welcome in French, a language he hasn't had time to learn as well as he should, and then, with visible relief, switches into English. Everyone understands how important it is for him to work with the team: designers come and go, but the best Dior tailors work in the atelier between twenty and forty years. And if the security guards are to be believed, the ghost of Dior himself wanders the corridors here at night, affectionately named "Chri-chri" by one of the seamstresses. The off-screen narrator continues with extracts from the maestro's memoirs: "After the war, women in uniform looked like boxers. But I was drawing women as flowers! My personal feelings coincided with the spirit of the times - and the style known as the New Look went off with a bang." And Simons realizes, better than anyone, that now it was his new collection for the great House that had to go off with a bang. And everything would have been OK if he hadn't been inspired by the creative work of the American abstract artist Sterling Ruby, who critics dubbed the "Gangster Rothko," and hadn't decided to stitch up several models from fabric printed in the same colors as Ruby's paintings. The workshop technicians ruefully shake their heads: in France there are only four specialists left who can print cloth in such complicated colors, and not a single one is available before May. "We're sorry, maestro, this can't be done, it's impossible." Simons persists, however, and he gets his way. Frederic Tcheng deftly edits this episode together with the next bit of narration from Dior's memoirs: "I tried to be diplomatic with my employees, but sometimes I hurt their feelings." As the film progresses, the tension begins to grow incrementally: on the day the studio is supposed to present ten dresses from the new collection, the manager of the House decides to send their top tailor to New York to do a fitting with a client. Simons is clearly shocked by this strange order of priorities; he tries not to show it, but he's nearly green with anger. And the manager has to explain to the maestro in as friendly a manner as possible, that you don't turn down clients who order 350,000 euros of clothing every quarter, that this keeps the House in business and allows new collections to be created. So this is how the fashion industry works. It seems that not only is the viewer of Tcheng's documentary unaware of this, but Simons himself as well. Regardless, for the presentation of the collection he is still going to make everyone jump higher than their own heads. He tells them to create an interior space for the catwalk so that the models "will look like the demonic dolls of Jeff Coons at Versailles" - and to decorate every wall with huge, floral panels so that the mansion smells like flowers from a distance of two city blocks.

Then, on the very eve of the the day of reckoning, Raf Simons, who is worried sick, has the following repartee with his press agent, "I don't want to go out onto the podium with the models, I don't want to work like a clown for the press, and I don't want to be photographed." "But you certainly remember the photo of Dior on the cover of Paris Match? We will make a photograph that echoes this historical photograph - only with you." "This will be a cover?" "No, usually they put only dead celebrities on the cover." "If that's the way it is, I can go jump out a window," Simons jokes joylessly. One of the most successful designers of our day, working at his dream job, and such a sensitive, fragile personality. It's surprising that Tcheng was able to get so close to him. And to film how Simons breaks into sobs before the very beginning of the catwalk. Later on comes the victory, the applause of fashion editors and celebrities, but this scene remains the climax of the film. In this world of fantasy, it turns out people cry.

Tatiana Aleshicheva, Kommersant


Georgy Poltavchenko, Governor of Saint Petersburg I am thrilled to welcome the leaders of the international media industry to our city, which we hope will become an important venue for business development and interaction. The Media Forum has also prepared an exceptional program of film and TV premieres for the citizens of Saint Petersburg.
Vadim Zingman, Aeroflot deputy director for customer service The St. Petersburg Media Forum is just starting out but I am sure that it will become one of the most important events for the Russian and world media industries. We wish all the SPIMF participants a fruitful time, successful new partnerships and a fresh sense of perspective.

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